San Gabriel Mountains provide a backdrop to the downtown Los Angeles skyline as seen from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills. (Nick Ut/AP)
Reporter

Nora Murphy was a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District when she realized she would rather be a teacher-librarian, as she explained in a 2011 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times:

When I taught seventh-grade English, I saw how critical it was that my students read. Those who loved books and read a lot found school easier and were more successful. I didn't fully understand, though, until a school librarian taught me, that I could help the students who didn't like reading become readers. By reading what my students read, I could learn what they liked and show them how to find other books they would like. I could create lovers of literature.

I soon got into the habit of, whenever I felt in over my head, turning to the school librarian for help. I once taught a class of highly gifted students whose curiosity and abilities stretched my limits as an educator. Our school librarian suggested reading with them a memoir called "Finding Fish," the story of a boy who overcomes insurmountable obstacles to create the life he wanted for himself. As we read this powerful book, we worked with the teacher-librarian to explore the social issues and ethics the story raised. Then students crafted their own memoirs.

That experience and others like it demonstrated to me that a school librarian performs the toughest, and most crucial, kind of teaching. Seeing it done well inspired me. Ultimately I returned to school to earn a library media services credential and a master’s degree.

The Los Angeles school district, however, decided that librarians and library aides were expendable when it made budget cuts, and Murphy was one of them. She then found work as the librarian in an all-girls Catholic high school in Los Angeles, where she designed a four-year research curriculum and is now the director of library services and research program.

Now, the L.A. school district is facing more financial trouble, and the teachers' union is threatening to strike next month after 1 1/2 years of negotiations for a new contract.

United Teachers Los Angeles has demanded, among other things, a 6.5 percent pay raise; more money for schools; a boost in the number of counselors, nurses, social workers and librarians; a reduction in standardized testing; and an expansion of community schools.

The union has called a march in support of public education on Saturday in downtown Los Angeles.

Superintendent Austin Beutner’s administration said it cannot afford the concessions and warns the district could be insolvent in a few years.

Murphy is also the mother of a first-grader who attends their neighborhood district public school, which she said “is two blocks from our house, and we adore it.”

She wrote the following letter to the Los Angeles Board of Education and gave me permission to publish it:

Dear members of the school board, 

I taught in LAUSD for eleven rewarding, challenging, roller-coaster-ride years. I am the person and educator that I am today because of it. I am now a parent of an LAUSD student and I feel both elated to be part of public education again and conflicted over what I know about this district as an insider. I will tell you this, my family will be picketing with my child's teachers because what they are asking for is the bare minimum any school district should provide for its schools, its families, its students. We stay home in protest because we can, and we know that is a privileged position to hold. How do you plan to adequately care for the hundreds of thousands of children whose families do not have that option? How many qualified childcare professionals do you have ready to care for the lives that will be in your hands as your beleaguered, undervalued, underpaid, under-served teachers do the only thing left they can possibly do to get through to you? No teacher wants to strike, you know. Teachers work through illness, through family hardship, through grief in order to care for their students. If they are going to strike, it's because the situation is dire.

The school district is a public trust. We decided long ago, as a nation, that our children would be educated. We decided, as a nation, that this is the bedrock of our democracy. The requests being made by UTLA are neither excessive nor unreasonable. They are not out of reach for this school district. They are basic, fundamental, obvious needs. Will any of you really argue that teachers need not be paid what they are worth?  Even what they are asking is far less than what they are worth, what they pour into their work, what they dedicate their lives to. Will you argue that my son doesn't need a medical professional on his campus at all times? Will you tell me that he doesn't need a librarian, that librarians are obsolete, that children intuitively use iPads and therefore no longer need curators of information? Will you tell me that my son will get the attention he needs from his teachers when there are thirty students in the room?  I don't think you will, and I don't think you could justify these things if you tried.

At a time when our national character is threatened, when our fundamental values are being challenged, where will you stand?  I know how this school district functions and I can tell you where to find the money. Stop buying canned curriculum every 3-5 years and sending thousands of teachers to unnecessary training. Stop buying trendy gadgets and stop, please stop hopping onto flimsy bandwagons. Think about what you want for your children, your best friend’s children, your sibling’s children, your grandchildren when you are making decisions about my child. Give the money to the teachers, please! They are the ones who are actually, really, fundamentally, truly shaping the future of this nation. Give them the money so they don’t go away and leave this task to...I can’t even imagine.

Fewer kids in the room, a living wage, nurses, libraries. That's the ask. It is unconscionable that you would refuse such a humble, modest, reasonable, ethical, moral request.

My family will not cross the picket line.